Two months after giving birth to my second son, I went back to the yoga studio. I’d been pouring all my time and energy into mothering, and I felt depleted. I needed to reclaim some time for myself, and recharge my metaphorical batteries. Practicing yoga was my solution.
Once class began, my limbs stretched and shook as I attempted each asana (pose). I fell out of garudasana (eagle pose) and modified many others. The last time I’d practiced yoga I’d been a stronger, more agile yogi. I’m a beginner again, I thought, wiping sweat from my forehead. With time, I’ll become more comfortable with these motions.
After a decade on and off the mat, I recounted one of the keys to yoga: it’s practice, not a performance. There’s no prize at the end of class if you land each pose with precision. There’s no shortcut to experience more ease and strength in yoga, either. To fully experience yoga’s benefits, you need to keep showing up to your mat.
What if we thought of our spirituality this way, too? Given the myriad obligations that bombard parents during our kids’ childhood, cultivating faith may seem like one more task to check off an ongoing list that perpetually haunts us. Perhaps our ideas about what constitutes faithfulness need to be modified from performance to practice? Here are four simple ways to connect with God in daily life.
Connect to your breath
I’m finding one of the holiest practices that brings me closer to God is breathwork. Whether I’m up late rocking a sick child to sleep or stepping away from a tense moment with my kids to cultivate calm, becoming mindful of my breath brings peace. Tuning into my breath illuminates what I often take for granted: my creator whose hand allows me to take one more breath. My shoulders relax, my brows soften, and I’m reminded that the control I grasp for is an illusion. I let God be God and cherish my identity as one of God’s beloved children.
Try it: Start by grounding yourself in a safe space. You can do this alone or invite your children to participate. Close your eyes and place one hand over your heart and one on your stomach. Empty all your stale air, then take a new breath, intentionally filling your diaphragm. Repeat the process as many times as you’re able—working from five cycles of full inhales and exhales up to more. When you inhale, meditate on an image or scene that brings you peace. As you exhale, clear any thoughts that come up and set them aside. Focus on the physical sensation of breathing: take notice of your lungs filling and releasing, your heart beating, the rhythm of grace sustaining you.
Connect to creation
Perhaps the wisest piece of parenting advice I’ve received is that, when your kids are having a tough time, try sending them outdoors. I’ve seen this work time and again with my boys. Fresh air does wonders for the littlest among us, and it turns out that the advice works for parents as well.
Time spent in creation can also connect us with our Creator. In The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years, I share a story about taking my oldest son to “nature church.” Once a month, we’d worship outside rather than in a sanctuary. We walked in our nearby forest preserve, admiring trees, ducks, dandelions and moss. Sun or snow, we prayed and laughed and imagined together how nature was praising God. Nature church became an invitation for my son to teach me about the Spirit: I let my son lead the way and highlight the created wonders among us, each bearing our Creator’s signature.
Try it: Alone or with your kids, take a nature walk. Visit a local forest preserve or a park and hunt for beauty. Stop to smell the wild flowers or watch clouds. Listen to the sound of birds calling. Keep your phone stashed away, and allow yourself to be small. Being in nature, far from the technology and trappings of modern life that obscure God, illuminates our identity as gifted creations called to steward the beauty and gifts among us.
Connect with prayer
I used to think that prayer meant hands folded, eyes shut and speaking to God aloud or quietly at the dinner table, in bed or within worship. These are all good and wonderful spaces in which we can speak to God, and habits that I try to incorporate in my family’s daily and weekly rhythms. However, as I’ve aged, I’ve discovered prayer can take many forms and occur just about everywhere. I’ve come to see prayer as calling a senator to advocate for change in our government. I’ve prayed while molding and shaping Play-Doh alongside my youngest. I’ve prayed singing lullabies or worship songs to my children. One of my favorite “nontraditional” forms of prayer is writing. More and more when I come to my journal I notice I’m in conversation with God — asking, thanking and listening.
Try it: Sometimes “traditional” prayer feels hard or stale. Here are three different writing exercises with which you can practice prayer:
1. Start a journal entry with the word “Dear God” and begin writing. What do you need to tell God today? Trust God is eager to listen and hold space for you in your joys and heartaches.
2. Pick a memory that you know well with your kids or from your own childhood. This memory might be troubling or pleasurable, maybe a little bit of both. In as much detail as you’re able, try to recreate the scene in words. When you’re finished, reread the scene you’ve created and consider what came up for you as you wrote. Is God present in this memory? How?
3. This final practice is a favorite and one I share in The Beauty of Motherhood. Create two lists, one for all of your worries and one for wonders of parenthood. Once you have both lists, see if you can use them as a starting point for being in conversation with God, aloud or silent.
Connect with sacred community
When both of our children were babies, my husband and I made a point to have them baptized at our congregation. Our church liturgy includes the reciting of a baptismal covenants in which the parents, sponsors and congregation promise to raise their children so that they come to know Jesus. What strikes me about this ritual is that the promise is made by my congregation: parenting can be so isolating, it’s easy to forget my children have a whole community of faith rooting for them, caring people who want to see them nourished by the Source of all love.
Given the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many of our established church habits were upset. Families may have set new rituals or gotten away from regular attendance. Whatever your situation, consider how you might invest in a church community, both for your growth and the growth of your children. Congregations hold positive influences and inspiration for ourselves and our children. With regular church attendance, whether in weekly worship and/or Bible study, we encounter another village where we can find teachers, babysitters, parenting mentors and more.
Try it: Practice attending worship weekly. If Sunday worship is not possible at this stage of life due to sleep, health challenges, etc., worship online at a set time and/or join a Bible study. Let your group become an anchor and sounding board of support. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Let the community shape you and bring you closer to God.
Cultivating a relationship with God may feel intimidating, and downright impossible during difficult parenting seasons. These practices are here for you when you can’t do one more thing: breathwork, getting outside, prayer and sacred community.
It’s been over a year since I stepped back on my yoga mat and I’m pleased to report that the return to this practice has had a great impact on my mental and physical health. I’ve not gone every week, nor have I gotten my full strength back. But I am a better parent because I’ve kept showing up over time to this life-giving activity, and I know I am a better parent when I keep the same mindset about my spirituality. Like my yoga practice, what matters most in our relationship with God isn’t perfection, it’s presence, showing up and pursuing time with the One who is always waiting for us with open arms, whispering, Beloved child, you are mine.